Communication & Life: What Are You Pretending Not to Know?
A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
I used to think life was something to be lived in real-time, something that you were supposed to experience and enjoy with instant gratification. I finally learned that life is actually lived during the pauses or breaks when we make time to reflect and truly appreciate the moment.
From these reflections, I’ve come to realize that communication is the root to all my problems today.
The single most important relationship during the span of my entire life is the one with myself. I have come to realize that communication is key to making sure this relationship is performing as optimally as possible. I have also come to realize that as I get swept away with the daily on-goings of life, I start to move further and further away from the true conversation that is playing in my mind.
I didn’t sleep last night. I actually woke up at 3 a.m. after having vivid dreams (more like nightmares). I won’t go into them here, as that is not the purpose of this article. When I couldn’t fall back to sleep I started obsessing about everything in my life. How was I going to succeed? Why am I losing clients? Am I losing clients? Why isn’t anyone listening to me? Why are things so difficult? Am I not succeeding? What does happiness look like? Why am I losing my mind right now?
In the past, I would have started to blame my diagnosis and associate these runaway thoughts with my illness. Today, I am choosing to address them differently. I am accepting them for what they are — thoughts — and I simply label them “thoughts,” without trying to solve them. During the course of my own personal self-discovery, I have come to identify a recurring theme when I look at my stressors. When my thoughts began to spiral as they did last night, it always comes back to how well am I communicating with others and myself.
As I investigate that process I became aware of a trend that productivity and task management gurus have been preaching for years — organize your tasks, more efficiently manage your time and prioritize those items that need to be completed. What happens when your inbound requests exceed your ability to ever get ahead? I’m attempting to bail out my boat with a coffee mug and I am failing.
I have come to realize that in the course of a day I speak to dozens of people ranging from personal relationships (my kids, my wife, my mother, friends, etc.) and professional relationships (my business partner, employees, clients, etc.). Each of those relationships place unique demands on my time and attention and as a result, get prioritized based on my own internal priority system. I notice that when all the priorities are shouting at me — and I feel as though none of them appreciate how special my time is — I get overloaded. This isn’t because I have a diagnosis. This is because I am human.
My diagnosis comes into play when I’m managing all these different commitments. More about that later.
I was once told that my emotions were very much like a revolving door; each event I come across is like someone pushing the door open and walking through. One, two or three events won’t cause me to be overwhelmed. However, once I hit my own internal limit and the door doesn’t stop, I begin reacting disproportionately.
For example, I might be overwhelmed all day at work — clients and employees constantly tugging at me, eventually passing my own threshold for the day. I then come home and my wife says she needs money for a new school program for my child and I lose my mind. Was that right? If I hadn’t gone through that overwhelming day — would that have been my response?
My diagnosis has made me more aware and sensitive to how I handle these types of situations. What I have become extremely grateful for is realizing that communication is the answer to all my problems today. The more I communicate with myself and those around me the more events can cross my threshold without causing extreme reactions.
When I woke up this morning at 3 a.m., I opened my computer and realized I had hundreds of emails across multiple inboxes all vying for my attention. Each naturally aging because email receive dates are unforgiving. Because my day isn’t designed to respond to every demand for my attention, I started to pick and choose who I was responding to. Those emails that require attention but don’t get it are comparable to those events pushing through my revolving door. They were uninvited guests that were causing me to experience undesired symptoms.
At this same time, I noticed my relationship with my wife was becoming strained, not because our relationship was strained (at this particular moment), but because I was extremely strained. I was not bringing my true self to my relationship and as a result, my wife was in a relationship with, essentially, a stranger. I felt like a ticking time bomb that might explode at any moment.
I like to ask myself and those I work with a simple question — “What are you pretending not to know?” The simplest example I can offer of this principle in action is as follows: How many of you have eaten poorly or excessively for a weekend and got on the scale Monday morning, gained weight and looked at the scale with utter disgust? This same principle applies to everything in your life.
Are clients mad at you? Have you been as responsive as you could be? Is your wife mad at you? Did you forget an important family event or forget to do something she asked of you? Are you upset with yourself? Are you not losing weight while binging?
The list goes on forever. The faster you can begin communicating with yourself the easier it will be to communicate with others.
As for this morning, I set my email to work in offline mode to give me an opportunity to clean up my inboxes. I stopped the incoming flood. I filed those emails that have become irrelevant as a result of too much time passing. I responded to those emails that required my attention or clarification. I asked for phone calls or meetings on emails that were too involved for an email response. I resolved those issues I could resolve.
The same applies to the conversation I am having in my mind. I opened my app and created my gratitude list. I focused on capturing my experiences as I went through this exercise. As emails upset me I simply wrote down “I am feeling agitated.” If I was pleased with an email I would write down “I am feeling excited.” I stayed on task and within a few hours, I was down to 24 emails — a far more reasonable list. The questions from last night weren’t answered, however, I noticed the voice in my head that was asking those questions seemed to be satisfied.
I was able to focus on being productive. The bottom line: I wasted a lot of energy last night — and likely for years of my life — avoiding a much-needed conversation at the time it was meant to be had. I allowed my overwhelming desire to pretend not to know to prevent much-needed communications and conversations that would have let me sleep much longer.